Deas Island Regional Park in Delta offers great wildlife watching

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Who let the bats out? More to the point, who let them in? Metro Vancouver Regional Parks, of course.

On the phone from Deas Island Regional Park in Delta, spokesperson Jill Deuling told the Georgia Straight that each evening between 500 and 1,000 female Yuma bats and their pups exit Burrvilla, a Queen Anne Revival–style heritage home built in 1905 and relocated to the park in the 1980s. “We try to manage the bats, which roost in the attic, so as not to disturb the caretakers who also live in the property. It’s quite something to see great horned owls perched on the roof waiting for the nightly appearance. They prey on the bats as well as young skunks, so it’s obvious they haven’t got a highly developed sense of smell,” she said with a laugh.

Such wildlife sightings are common on Deas Island, both in the park itself and below the surface of the Fraser River’s South Arm, which curls around Woodward Reach and forms a generous-sized backwater slough. Sunset is the optimum time to dip a paddle into the shadowy water world thronged by summer schools of migrating salmon. At dusk, once power boaters have headed home, those in self-propelled craft are likely to encounter beavers while quietly scoping out the thickly vegetated shoreline.

Care to see for yourself? Better hurry. The final summer evening two-hour paddle session offered at Deas Island takes place August 15. Deuling suggested that at a cost of $20 per person, such outings are a bargain. “Everything is included, from life vests to basic instruction from leaders trained in flat-water paddling techniques. The canoes stick close to the shore and stop at numerous locations along Deas Slough, including the hull of a sunken rumrunner, the Audrey B. Our primary focus is on natural history, such as bog orchids and eagles’ nests.”

Don’t be surprised if the slap of a beaver tail grabs your attention as sharply as if a shotgun went off beside you. The silence that surrounds the slough on summer evenings is as enveloping as the cool air carried along by the river’s current. The most captivating sight of all is Mount Baker, lit by the moon rising in the southern sky. Such a scene will set the stage at the second annual Starry Nights gathering in the park on August 21. Unlike the paddling evenings, there’s room for all at this free event.

On the phone from the Corporation of Delta, a sponsor of Starry Nights, recreation programmer Lynn Davies told the Georgia Straight that the event is modelled on the long-running Night Quest outing at Pacific Spirit Regional Park held each spring on Vancouver’s West Side. “Our goal was to attract 300 people last year, and over 400 attended. This is a stroller-accessible, family event with plenty of activities for kids, such as a drumming tent led by Lyle Povah and telescopes for moon-gazing. Two of the neatest features are the Poetry Trail, which leads along a lantern-lit path to the bat-viewing station, while another trail leads through the forest past 20 pairs of glow-in-the-dark eyes which kids have to find with the help of flashlights we give out.”

Five park staff, including Tess DesRochers, will be out on their bikes to ensure no one goes astray. “The entire park is being taken over by families. We expect a tremendous turnout,” the avid East Vancouver cyclist said. “Just come prepared. The weather here changes quickly; clouds can move in out of nowhere. Deas is a little ecosystem all its own.”

Although evening is a special time to visit Deas Island, when birdsong fills the sky and a hush hangs over the open playing fields, it’s during the course of a sun-splashed summer day that the island really comes alive. Thanks to the motion of the river and shade from tall black cottonwoods, the air is cooler there than in the city. When it comes to activities, the park makes a perfect jumping-off point for exploration, whether simply launching into the slough from the dock in front of the Delta Deas Rowing Club or heading farther afield on the Spirit of Delta Millennium Trail, which leads west of Deas along the mainland to the heritage village of Ladner.

Delta South independent MLA Vicki Huntington, a third-term Delta councillor when the trail was completed in 2008, told the Georgia Straight she was particularly proud of the “super” project. “It was spearheaded and paid for by community funds and, in effect, ties Delta together, from Deas Island—a lovely park—to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal via Ladner and Brunswick Point.”

That’s a whale of a ride. As DesRochers noted: “Although people bike over from Ladner, most locals don’t know about this hidden oasis.” Summer cycling is thirsty business. Pack along a cup to Starry Nights, where Girl Guides will be serving complimentary refreshments as the Milky Way pours across the sky.

 

ACCESS: Deas Island lies 30 kilometres south of Vancouver. Take Highway 99 South to Highway 17 North (Exit 28) south of the George Massey Tunnel. Turn east onto River Road. The park entrance is two kilometres from this point on the north side of River Road. For bus access, call TransLink at 604-521-0400 or visit their Web site. For information on Deas Island Regional Park, call 604-224-5739. A Millennium Trail map is posted on-line.

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